Women’s affect on men has long been a half-hearted joke. You meet a boy or man raised with lots of sisters, and you can just TELL.
Little things like he doesn’t freak over a box of tampons in the bathroom. Big things like he’s a good listener and knows exactly when to put a hand on your shoulder (and not on your thigh).
This isn’t to say that men raised primarily with other men can’t be empathetic or make a mean chocolate soufflé. But there often is a simpatico aura radiating from men who have a finely honed sensitivity to women. You know, those men who GET women?
Now there is proof that women ourselves have something to do with this phenomenon. The New York Times recently reported on the so-called “daughter effect” in Why Men Need Women.
Recent scientific research offers the provocative conclusion that the world’s most philanthropic and generous-spirited men are ones with the closest proximity and exposure to women.
The converse can be true, too, unfortunately. In India, where decades of female infanticide means boys outnumber girls by as much as 10:8, or Muslim countries with strict segregation between the sexes, crimes against women such as rape, forced prostitution, and domestic violence are rampant. Is this a surprise? Not only do women have little power in these cultures, but they haven’t been given a chance to sensitize men to their needs and vulnerabilities.
In many of these countries, women are so devalued that your family needs to pay a man to marry you. The practice of dowry has ancient roots, but still thrives in many cultures today. Like many feminists, I find the concept of paying someone to take me off their hands to be offensive and demeaning, especially because most dowry-wives spend the rest of their days as unpaid cooks, housekeepers and caretakers for their husbands and extended families.
But in the interest of fairness, I’ve come up with an improvement on the dowry tradition, based on this recent scientific evidence of women’s civilizing effect on men. For every family where the sisters and mother have spent years, sometimes decades, painstakingly teaching the boys in the family to eat with a fork and knife, to verbalize their feelings, to not flinch at bras and panties hanging in the shower, to make herbal tea, wear deodorant, and march for equal pay and abortion rights, shouldn’t WE receive some compensation? The male dowry, paid to mothers, sisters, teachers and caregivers who have civilized the men in our life.
Call it The Bowry. The Boy Dowry. A frank recognition of women’s value in the lives of men. I like it. And now we have cold, hard research on our side.
Of course, many people may view this idea as sexist or frivolous, an affront to the serious destruction wreaked upon women just for being women, and blithe ignorance of the violence that all too often befalls men as well. In fact, some people consider the studies themselves destructive to both men and women because too much emphasis is placed on gender. They could well be right. But it could be simply that it is painful to consider such an unfair, long-standing human reality that being born male or female is a prime determinant in one’s quality of life.
Gender, like skin color or affiliation with a minority group, should not matter when it comes to our legal rights, the application of justice, our pursuit of happiness. But often enough, gender does matter. Enough so that we should study its affects, our biases, and cultural traditions. Even when it hurts to do so.